Pennsylvania Step-Back Cupboard
by Kerry Lancaster
Click on any picture to see a larger version.
My high school wood shop teacher, who was in his late 80s, passed away in June 2012. Before he died I had the privilege of reconnecting with him and was able to thank him many times for the knowledge he imparted to his students the many years he taught and I promised him I would try and build a piece of furniture he would be proud to say I was his student.
In the 1960s Industrial Arts was taught in our Georgia universities and the graduates of this specialty taught wood, metal and electrical courses to high school students. The students that took these classes at Russell High School, East Point, GA were fortunate to have Mr. John D. Evans as their teacher, a graduate of the University of Georgia's Industrial Arts Program. Looking back at an old annual I realized how young Mr. Evans was when he was teaching high school, but as a result of his leadership the students won many first places prizes in the industrial arts competition held each year in the state of Georgia. The school that won the most first place awards got a new piece of machinery for their school and as a result Russell High School had a top-notch Industrial Arts Department. Students built cherry buffets, drop-leaf dining tables, mahogany night stands with drawers and even a 14 ft. lap-side speed boat.
I never built what I considered to be a pass-down piece of furniture, but what I did build was built right because Mr. Evans made sure there were no junk pieces of furniture leaving his classroom/shop.
After many years of building Windsor chairs, early in 2012 I decided to build a case piece since I had made a promise to Mr. Evans, and to myself, to build a nice piece of furniture. He insisted I call him John, but I was never comfortable calling him John, even though I'm almost 70.
In February 2012, I found a plan for a Pennsylvania step-back cupboard made of tiger maple by Glen Huey, Managing Editor, Popular Wood Working Magazine. His plan was one of the best and comprehensive plans I had ever seen, although not for the novice. It took a lot of determination and patience, but it was a joy to build. Glen's plan was exactly what the original 18th century furniture looks like. After he presents a plan, he says, "go build something great."
I used tiger maple as the primary wood and poplar for the secondary wood. I used all joinery and pegs with glue to reinforce the joints and there are no nails in the piece. All the pull knobs are hand-turned from tiger maple. The glass in the upper doors is antique from an old Atlanta house c. 1870 - 1910. The hinges are called rat tails, and are hand forged from Ball and Ball.
The correct finish and color on a period-style piece built with tiger maple, is without question, the determining factor that will make or break the piece. After doing a great deal of research I decided to use Glen Huey's method for finishing tiger maple. Glen's Illustrated Guide to Building Period Furniture comes with a DVD that includes instructions on tiger maple finishing, along with other great tips. I applied golden amber maple aniline dye to get the amber color. Then I started applying Highland Hardware's water base Ceramithane Matte Finish; after three coats of this finish I had achieved the antique look I wanted for the cupboard.
The project was slow and intense for me, taking seventeen (17) months to complete with an eight-week delay due to a broken back as a result of an accident. I took my time because I did not want to waste any materials.
Mr. Evans never got to see the finished piece, but my lovely wife is now enjoying it in our kitchen, for that I am grateful.
Thank you Highland Woodworking for providing the quality products for the finish on the cupboard. Thanks to Glen Huey for all his help and expertise. Now, enjoy the photos of the project.
You can also see my shop on
Highland Woodworking's web page Show Us Your Shop section.
You can email Kerry at